Kerala High Court-appointed expert committee suggests releasing elephant PM-2 back into wild

The tuskless elephant was tranquilised and captured deep in the Wayanad forests last year and is currently in captivity at a camp.

ByPTI

Published Jan 11, 2024 | 5:39 PMUpdatedJan 11, 2024 | 5:39 PM

elephant

An expert committee, constituted by the Kerala High Court, has suggested releasing the captured elephant named Pandalur Makhna-2 (PM-2) back into the wild.

The tuskless elephant was tranquilised and captured deep in the Wayanad forests last year and is currently in captivity at the Forest Department’s Muthanga elephant camp.

The committee, comprising elephant experts Dr PS Easa, OP Kaler, and Dr M Ananda Kumar, has recommended the release of the young adult elephant, estimated to be around 13 years old, into the wild.

They propose fitting the elephant with a radio-collar so that its movements can be regularly monitored.

Also Read: Kannur wild tusker pushed back into forest

‘Rewild, rehabilitate’

“We believe there is a possibility for PM-2 to be reintroduced into forest habitats. This exercise should be viewed as an opportunity to ‘rewild’ and rehabilitate a captured elephant that has been kept in captivity,” Easa said.

In a comprehensive report presented to the Kerala High Court on 8 January 2024, the committee strongly criticised the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department. It highlighted the department’s disregard for established norms and criticised their undue haste in capturing an elephant that had not posed any threat to humans or property during its wanderings in Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad.

“The officials were in a hurry to capture the animal with an intention of keeping it in captivity as evidenced by the removal of the radio-collar soon after the capture. The composition of the ‘Expert Committee’ constituted by the Wayanad authorities, which advised the capture also indicates the casual approach, and the attempt has been just to satisfy the procedure in the paper,” said the report, a copy of which is available with PTI.

The report said the Kerala Forest Department had taken a hasty decision to capture the elephant, when it was about 8 kilometres away from Sulthan Bathery town, deep inside the forest, in the company of a tusker and a herd nearby.

PM-2 was then isolated from the tusker and the herd and tranquilised.

Hurry to capture

“The Department did not review their decision to capture, even with the order of the CWLW (chief wildlife warden). There was definitely undue hurry and procedural flaws on the part of the Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department, especially the Wayanad authorities, requiring an enquiry/reprimand from the high court,” the report said.

The elephant, PM-2, was earlier captured by the Tamil Nadu forest department when there were reports of it causing the death of one person in Pandalur. They had released the elephant in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve after capturing and radio-collaring it from Pandalur.

The elephant then started moving towards Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Tamil Nadu forest authorities and an NGO reportedly informed the Kerala Forest Department about its presence in the Bathery area. On 6 January, 2023, the elephant entered Bathery town around 2 am and is said to have “attacked” one person.

“There is no address or any other documents to prove the identity of the “injured” person and there was no claim for compensation/ex gratia by the person. These narrations and evidences definitely show that the incident was just accidental,” the report said.

Also Read: Ivory trade suspected behind death of wild tusker in Kerala

No incidents

After the purported encounter, the elephant returned to the forests and was eight kilometres inside the forest from Bathery town. There was no incident reported involving PM-2 from 7 to 9 January, it said. However, because of pressure from the public and the media, an order to capture the elephant was issued on 7 January, the report added.

According to the details gathered by the high court appointed expert committee, PM-2 had been roaming around the Bathery area from 31 December 2022 to 9 January 2023 and it had made several attempts to cross the town towards south of Sulthan Bathery town.

“The movement pattern seems to indicate that PM-2 was heading towards the Pandalur region in Tamil Nadu from where he was translocated by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, (according to) a homing instinct being reported in elephants by several studies,” the report said.

Cites example 

The expert committee has also quoted the example of ‘Rivaldo’, a highly habituated elephant in Tamil Nadu, was kept in captivity for 90 days and later successfully released back into the forest.

Rivaldo is now moving freely in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve without causing any trouble to human lives and their livelihood, the committee report said.

The committee has also laid down elaborate procedures to be followed while releasing PM-2 back to the forest and monitoring measures to be taken post-release.

The Kerala High Court appointed this committee on 27 June 2023, based on a writ petition submitted by the People for Animals NGO against the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department seeking to appoint an expert committee to facilitate the release of PM-2 from captivity and ‘rewild’ it.

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